We are moving.
The text message had arrived at night, at exactly 12:01 A.M. Reading it now on the blinking family tablet, Cecelia wondered why Therese had waited until she was asleep before sending it. Cece loved and adored her best friend, and if there was anything she thought she knew about Therese, it was this: surely Therese would never abandon her.
And yet, there it was, a single line packed with the possibility of disappointment: We are moving.
Cece jumped out of bed and ran the whole way to her parents’ bedroom.
“They’re moving, they’re moving!” She barged through the door.
It was a Saturday, so Iya and Baba were still in bed late, each in their pajamas. They jumped, startled.
“Ei, ei,” Baba, who was also “Daddy” sometimes but insisted Cece refer to her parents using the traditional Yoruba terms, said. “Why all this shouting this morning?”
“And what did we say about knocking before entering?” Iya, who was also “Mummy,” asked.
“Yes, yes, okay, scold me later,” Cece said. “But we must go now.”
“Because?” Baba inquired.
“Because Reesa and her family are moving and I won’t be able to say goodbye if we don’t leave right now!”
It took quite a bit of prodding for them to boot up like slow computers and get up to speed. As they had decided it was too early to let her out alone, Cece managed to persuade them to come with. She literally had to drag them out of the house and into the cold morning, both still in their bathrobes. Cece herself was in her bathroom slippers, but who cared? Therese was leaving. All Cece could think about was getting there before it was too late.
Gemshore Estate, their neighborhood in the island part of Lagos, was just waking up as well. The streets were empty but for the Saturday street sweepers. The swish swish of their brooms and the call of early birds were the only sounds for miles. Cece’s parents paused to greet one of the sweepers, smiling and saying È kàárọ oh! in a singsong voice. The sweeper himself chirped a sugar-sweet Good morning! Cece’s way. But Cece was already out of earshot, abandoning her parents behind and running for Therese’s.
The family home of the Njingas, Therese’s parents, was only six houses down from Cecelia’s, but around the bend. Her parents finished their greetings and caught up as she turned the corner. Cece expected to see moving trucks and a lot of activity come into view as they neared the Njinga house. Instead, misty silence greeted them at the detached duplex. The garage door was rolled down, there was no car parked in the compound, and all the windows were shut.
There was no one there.
“What is happening? Where are they?” Cece turned to her parents, a plea in her eyes. “Where is Therese?”
“Oh, honey,” Iya said, and patted Cece’s shoulder. “I think we may be too late.”
Back home, Cece sat at the dining table and tried to process what had just happened. How could Reesa do that? she thought. How could her one and only friend in the world just move away without telling her or giving her the opportunity to say goodbye?
While Baba spoke on the phone, trying to reach Mr. Njinga for an explanation of the family’s sudden disappearance, Iya made Cece her favorite beverage: hot chocolate with honey and marshmallows. Or, her favorite beverage when she was, like, five—not that Iya could be bothered to remember she was not five anymore. Cece was in need of warmth, though, and decided, Hot chocolate is fine, I guess. However, when it did come, she was too downbeat to drink any of it, and just let it sit there, getting cold.
We were supposed to start Gemshore Secondary together on Monday. Cece picked at her fingers, nervous just at the thought. How am I supposed to start secondary school all on my own?
While her mother rummaged around trying to make breakfast, Baba finished his phone call.
“They’re already at the airport,” he announced after hanging up. “They’re getting ready to board. He says they’re moving to a place called Scottsdale. It’s in the USA.”
“Why didn’t she tell me it would happen so fast?” Cece asked, to no one in particular. “Why did she wait until last night?”
“Well, Mr. Njinga says it was quite sudden and there was little time to plan. None of his children even knew they were moving this quickly—not Therese, not her brothers.”
“But still . . .”
“Honey dearest,” Iya said. “I know it feels horrible to lose your best friend, but I’m sure she would have told you if she could. Don’t worry—once they land, you can speak to her on your Baba’s phone.”
Cece ate the rest of her breakfast in uncharacteristic silence. Midway through her meal of wheat bread with mayo and sausages, the tablet chimed again. Iya picked it up, put on her glasses, and squinted at it.
“I think it’s your friend,” she said, and passed the iPad to Cece.I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,
the message from Therese read. It was very . . . fast.
Cece put down the tablet and finished her breakfast. Once done, she went to the den, the only other room with a TV besides the living room, where her video gaming console was hooked up. She pulled a beanbag chair across, settled into the plush foam in front of the TV, booted up the unit, slipped on her headphones, and picked up her controller.
After breakfast on weekends was often housekeeping time, then homework time, then screen time, which could be a game or TV. But the housekeeper had come early the day before—a public holiday—and helped Cece with folding her clothes and arranging her books and putting her socks in the washer. Today being a weekend following a public holiday also meant she had done her homework the day before. Now, all she had was free time to do whatever she wished with.
But only as the game world wrapped around her did she remember that with Therese gone, she had no one to play Minecraft with.
I spawn right at the heart of Silver Oaks Park.
That is what Reesa and I named this Realm. There is no silver here, really, or oak trees. It was just the name we could come up with the first time we learned how to craft a sign out of wood planks and a stick. We stuck the sign in the ground, wrote in the letters, and named it our own private corner of the big world of Minecraft.
What I’m calling the “heart” is really the house Reesa and I built three years ago at what is now the center of Silver Oaks. The spot started out as a place to hide at night, when I first began playing in Peaceful. I had stumbled upon the Realm while trying to avoid playing Survival Mode in any other difficulty. I was goofing around and searching for nearby players from around the estate to play with when I discovered this private server, open and unrestricted, and the only one around set to Peaceful. I joined it on a whim.
The place looked empty and deserted back then. Then night came, and I thought monsters would come for me like in Survival, so I hid in this spot. But no monster showed up, and instead, i_am_therese spawned where I was, peered into my hiding spot, and asked what I was doing hiding in there. I told her, and she laughed, then explained to me that monsters did not exist in Peaceful. Or in her Realm. Just things like polar bears and iron golems, which don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. I later found out that her father had paid some guy to help host this Realm for her for the same reason I was trying not to play Minecraft elsewhere. And that was to avoid venturing into the big bad world of public servers on the internet.
We became friends that night, and have been ever since. She told me her name was really Teresa, but that her grandparents, who were originally from Congo-Brazzaville, opted to call her Thérèse, after a once-popular French princess where they grew up. It had stuck, and everyone called her Therese now. But she asked that I call her Reesa for short. It was what she let only her best friends call her.
I walk through the house we built together. It is no longer a small hiding spot, but now a mansion with more rooms than we can manage. We have crafted beds, books, bookshelves, carpets, banners, fences, gates. We have a small basement we built with cobblestone where we keep most of our booty. Our large living room has tall, floor-to-ceiling, stained glass windows. We crafted a few framed paintings and placed them around the house.
But it is not only the mansion at Silver Oaks that is our stamp on the world. As I look over the balcony of the first floor of our house, I can see all the farms we have created. Wheat, beetroot, cocoa beans, melon, pumpkin, mushrooms, sugarcane: all growing around us. There is even a barn where we keep sheep whenever we have the time to tend to them.
Even some things that we once did that are no longer here I remember now just by looking. Like that one time we decorated for the new year holidays. Or the time we made eggs and hid them and then tried to do an Easter egg hunt thing. I hid mine high up in a tree, and Therese tried to climb it once she had figured it out, but just kept falling. The memory comes to me now and I can’t help laughing.
Copyright © 2021 by Suyi Davies. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.